Healing from an eating disorder can be a long process, involving multiple services to aid the mind and body. After a patient meets their goals of wellness in treatment, they may find themselves embarking on a new journey. This journey may be one they are preparing to take alone or with friends. It may include moving to a new location, starting a new relationship or starting a new job. If you are someone who is preparing for aftercare, it is not uncommon for there to be anxiety around managing recovery. Herein lies the importance of addressing eating disorder aftercare.

The Importance of Eating Disorder Aftercare

Creating a plan of action can be a useful guide for those exiting in or outpatient care for eating disorder recovery. Aftercare can be implemented in numerous ways, not limited to the inclusion of support systems, counseling, or small practices that help mitigate the impact of triggers. Aftercare and its importance is highly linked to one’s ability to recover from eating disorders. Here are a few helpful aftercare tips:

  • Counseling: Counseling provides a great outlet for those utilizing aftercare to talk about what they are experiencing in a supportive, trustworthy environment. The treating therapist will usually provide a discharge plan with recommendations for continuing therapy on an outpatient basis.
  • Self-Care: Self-care can be a great way to connect back with your body and community. Unpacking triggers, managing stress, and finding supportive allies in recovery are all part of self-care.
  • Implementing Changes Learned in Treatment: Did you learn how to practice intuitive eating? Perhaps you learned a breathing technique to use during times when you feel down about your body? Maybe you gained an accountability partner? Just because initial treatment has ended, this doesn’t mean one should stop practicing what was learned. By continuing to implement new behaviors, those in recovery can work to rewire their thinking and practice the actions that match.
  • Coaching: Stepping down from a residential, partial hospitalization, or intensive outpatient program can feel a bit scary. What if you are unsure of how to implement and maintain the skills learned in your treatment program? One option is to enlist the help of a HAES-aligned recovery coach. Coaching is a great adjunct to therapy during eating disorder aftercare. The service supports the treatment plan of your recovery team. Coaches are often available by text or email, and some even provide mealtime support. Even after discharging from outpatient therapy, intuitive eating or wellness coaches can be a great help.

What Happens if You Lapse or Relapse while Practicing Aftercare?

Relapsing while in recovery is not uncommon. Roughly 35% of those recovering from anorexia and bulimia experience relapse, with the highest risk being within the first 18 months for those who have been diagnosed with anorexia. Relapses are characterized as longer periods of time when an individual reverts back to utilizing behaviors that are indicative of an eating disorder. Lapses, on the other hand, are much more common and can be a momentary behavior that happens over a shorter period of time. Through measures previously mentioned for aftercare during recovery, individuals may be able to pinpoint the reasons behind the behavior and find strength and support to do the next right thing. 

Is “Full Recovery” Possible?

In short, yes. Carolyn Costin, an author, therapist, and overcomer of anorexia nervosa, says that full recovery is possible once a person is able to accept their natural body shape and size, along with having a healthy relationship with food and body movement. Frameworks such as Health At Every SizeⓇ (HAES) support this notion by emphasizing the importance of body diversity, eating intuitively, and body acceptance. By making peace with the body and appreciating it for what it does regardless of societal standards, people can open themselves up to show greater compassion toward their abilities with less judgment, no longer seeing the body as something that needs to be “fixed.”

About the Author

Joy Cox, PhD is a body justice advocate using her skill set in research and leadership to foster social change through the promotion of fat acceptance, diversity, and inclusion. She currently sits as the Chair for the Association of Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH), and hosts the podcast, Fresh Out the Cocoon which focuses on the lived experiences of Black fat women.

Health At Every Size and HAES are registered trademarks of the Association for Size DIversity and Health and used with permission.